Culture

Is an 'Empathy Gap' to Blame for James Damore's Problems at Google?

James Damore, right, a former Google engineer fired in 2017 after writing a memo about the biological differences between men and women, speaks at a news conference while his attorney, Harmeet Dhillon, listens, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Michael Liedtke)

BuzzFeed reports that James Damore, the former Google employee who was fired by the tech giant for confronting sexism in the workplace, is taking Google to court on behalf of conservative white guys:

James Damore, who was fired in August for internally circulating a manifesto that argued Google’s gender pay gap was the result of genetic inferiority, said in a lawsuit filed in Santa Clara Superior Court that the search giant “singled out, mistreated, and systemically punished and terminated” employees that deviated from the company’s view on diversity. Damore and a second plaintiff David Gudeman, another former Google engineer, are seeking class action status for conservative Caucasian men.

…“Google’s management goes to extreme — and illegal — lengths to encourage hiring managers to take protected categories such as race and/or gender into consideration as determinative hiring factors, to the detriment of Caucasian and male employees and potential employees at Google,” the suit reads.

Compelling evidence supporting Damore and Gudeman’s lawsuit comes from a recent interview published in Quillette. Claire Lehmann interviews “Gideon Scopes” (a pseudonym), a software engineer who occasionally writes for the publication. Scopes has Asperger syndrome. He also has extensive experience navigating gender issues in tech:

I asked Gideon if he thought that the American media painted a distorted picture of the gender gap in tech. He told me yes. He chalked it up to three factors: a growing tendency towards collectivism in American culture, combined with a blank slate view of human nature and an empathy gap towards men.

… When women talk about being made to feel uncomfortable at work, or being sexually harassed, we feel empathy and want to punish the wrong-doers. But we don’t have the same reaction for “geeks,” or “techbros”. Because our understanding of neurodiversity is painfully lacking, our culture tends to view men as a homogenous category, seeing all men as inheritors of privilege and all men as possessing the masculine traits that foster toughness and resilience. We have a habit of ignoring those who don’t, and when they do talk about their vulnerability, we are inclined to ignore, or ridicule them for it.

Scopes believes Damore falls somewhere on the autism spectrum, hence his ignorance in releasing such a highly charged memo, commenting, “If he didn’t get the message that the women in science movement wasn’t interested in dialogue and is glad to destroy anyone who questioned it then he must be [on the spectrum].”

The question of whether or not an empathy gap exists in tech is clearly answerable. What needs further examination is how far the empathy gap extends beyond the tech world, and beyond men whose intellect places them on the autism spectrum. Clear evidence exists indicating a bias against male gender norms in parenting literature and children’s media. Public education has been shortchanging boys for over 20 years and counting. Men are impacted by unemployment at a higher rate than women.

According to the APA, there is “no significant difference between the rate of depression in men and women,” yet “the suicide rate among American men is about four times higher than among women.” Do we even need to ask why? Perhaps now that men like Damore are stepping out of their cubicles, we’ll finally get some answers.